Tackling the Pesky Procrastination Problem

Laura (not her real name) wrote:  I find conflict very difficult-like the conflict over the recent personnel issue. I think my leadership is affected negatively by this tendency to worry and second guess decisions, even postpone them too long. Are there trainings that might help me come to terms with inevitable conflict or do you think personal counseling is a better choice?

Linda:  I admire you for seeing an issue with yourself and wanting to work to make it better.  Yes, avoiding conflict when it makes it harder for everyone and especially yourself is indeed something to work on.

I tried to think of everything I think you need to get a handle on this.  I’ve come to the conclusion you want to do both courses of action and a few more because you need to get:

  • Some perspective.  Everyone procrastinates and you need perspective on what’s acceptable and what’s not so you’re not too hard on yourself but yet you come to recognize when you’ve crossed the line.  For that you need someone to talk to for daily and, weekly issues; you need to have someone to talk to over time.
  • You need to come to a good understanding of reasons why you procrastinate on conflict.  I imagine you have some answers in your head (for instance, what you saw at home is it for most of us) but you need to flesh those out.  You need feedback, clarity and, again, perspective, on the reasons you do it.
  • You want to set some [artificial, but useful] boundaries for your avoidance, some STOP signs.  “If I can’t sleep for two nights, I’m going to work out a plan for dealing with it, ”  or whatever symptoms of anxiety you get, or signs from others that they’re anxious.  Write these down as a visible promise to yourself that you do have stop signs and that you’ll obey them.
  • Now, to the plan or strategies to confront the issue.  You can learn more strategies from a workshop so, sure, look for one, can’t hurt.  But this is also for one-on-one because you want the strategies to fit you as well as to fit the situation. Very important. We all have our idiosyncrasies and I want you to be [fairly] comfortable with your confrontations.
  • More suggestions for strategies to help you confront.
    • Revisit Crucial Confrontations.  (Note: Book by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler.  A really good newsletter on the subject is at http://www.vitalsmarts.com)  Give it a half hour to one hour, flip through it, stick post-its on pages that strike home, copy those pages, whatever — the object is to get the strategies that will work for you out so they can be first and foremost in your mind.
    • Revisit your CenterMark results.  (Note:  the CenterMark is a Myers-Briggs-type instrument.  I use it in every Leadership Seminar.  It’s supportive and instructive.)  Just 20 minutes will do it.  Find the sections about dealing with change and conflict, the section about how you are under stress (for your STOP signs).  Again, copy those sections to get them on one page or post-it them –do something with the information that makes it handy.  You have your own ways of organizing.
    • The Handy Crib Sheet for Confrontation might be, well, handy.  (Note:  Find it under “Papers for You”.)
  • Getting confidence in dealing with problems as they arise is very important.  Use the Rule of 3 (first time bad behavior happens notice it, second time think of it as a pattern, third time talk to the person about the pattern) to tackle issues before they create anxiety for you.  Plan, practice, breathe, be firm but gracious.

Do You Waste Your Employees’ Time?

Do You Waste Your Employees’ Time?
Lessons from 2nd Grade:  What we can learn from a skilled teacher about workforce management

I don’t write that often — life gets in the way, imagine that — so I need to remind you what we’re doing in these couple articles. We’re looking at what managers can learn from a talented teacher’s management methods.  Twenty-eight children every day with a huge mandate for standards and benchmarks as well as a moral imperative to meet the needs of each individual child!  You thought your job was hard.  Teachers need to excel in methods and work ethic to be successful.

The teacher we’re following is Mrs. Lynch, who is energetic and passionate about education and also my lovely sister.  [News Flash! I just this minute heard.  She won 2011 Educator of the Year in her district!)  Mrs. Lynch knows how to create a positive culture; I wrote about that last time.  She can teach 8 year olds how to work together and cooperate.  (Some of you are thinking your employees act like 8 year olds at times!)  She knows how to hold those little free spirits accountable; accountability being something that many of them haven’t experienced at home.  And she can get them to do anything, which the business world calls motivating your employees.

When I asked Jeanine what she felt was most important to manage her workforce, first on her list was Be Organized.  “I don’t want to waste their time,” she said.  She doesn’t want to waste their time!  Do you waste your employees time?  Let’s check.

How to Not Waste Your Employees’ Time

Mrs. Lynch has the whole day to organize, you have a meeting.  How organized are your meetings?  kids at agenda

Mrs. Lynch uses a daily agenda because, “Students like to know what’s ahead for the day.”  It’s the first thing they look at each morning.  They know if she’s left out recess or lunch (of course purposely); they love it when there’s a surprise on there; and “special guest” makes them very curious.  What’s our lesson from 2nd Grade?  Students and your employees all like to know that there’s a plan and we all like surprises, little gifts from our teacher or manager that shows she or he cares to offer things to brighten our day.

I’ve already talked with many of you about agendas for meetings.  Some of you say that you like having a free, open discussion with never ending talk, talk, talk about topics of interest to you.  That’s how your employees describe it by the way!  In other words, “You’re wasting my time!”

If you want that kind of discussion, schedule a Round Table or work session, both good forums for free flowing discussion. Be sure to announce it with a list of topics/questions you want to cover, a time limit, and perhaps some background information to help them prepare.

For regular meetings, your agenda should be sent out ahead of time, everyone should know what their part of the meeting is, each item should show the time allotted for it and type of item it is, Discussion, Information, or Action.  Include a space for recording desired outcomes, due date, and person responsible.

Have a plan.  Mrs. Lynch knows she could probably fill days on end just off the top of her head. “But if I don’t have a plan I don’t know if I’m meeting all the requirements and, most importantly, meeting the needs of the students.”  She has a big task:  prepare them academically and socially for the world and their future.  “If I don’t do my job, they can’t do theirs.”  You have the same obligation.

4 Lessons from Mrs. Lynch’s 2nd Grade Classroom

4 Lessons from Mrs. Lynch’s 2nd Grade Classroom
What we can learn from a skilled teacher about workforce management

What did you get for Christmas? I hope a memorable gift like Mrs. Lynch got.
She and her second graders were talking about pets and Mrs. Lynch told a few stories about her family’s now-deceased dog, Chips. Madison asked to see a picture of him. The next day Madison came in with a styrofoam bobble head dog she had found in her closet and drawn on with a black magic marker to look like Chips. “She told me I could keep it on my desk to remind me of Chips everyday”, says Mrs. Lynch, “but I will mostly remember her sweet gesture.”

Why lessons from Mrs. Lynch’s 2nd grade classroom? Because what goes on in her classroom is an excellent example of how to create a culture, build a team, hold people accountable and how to motivate them; the same things you and I talk about in a workshop or coaching session.

Mrs. Lynch is my sister, Jeanine, and when I go home to Des Moines I visit her classroom. I’m totally in awe every time I visit. I smile at how comfortable the children are in their surroundings. I’m thrilled at how happy the children and Mrs. Lynch seem (although they all have their moments, but you knew that.) I marvel at all they’re learning. I have seen so many parallels to business people management in what this talented teacher (and lovely sister) does in her classroom and I want to point them out to you.

Let’s take developing a culture first and the other topics in later blogs.

Build a Culture of Pride
Elementary teachers know how to develop culture big time. They do it by building pride at all levels: school, grade and class. They emphasize that each child contributes to the reputation of the school. They make it cool to be a second grader (but cooler to be a third grader.) Mrs. Lynch makes them feel very special to be in her class. Principal, teacher and staff, every person interacting with a child expresses clearly and often what’s expected of the child to live up to being a member of the group. Walk down the halls of a grade school and you’ll see it. It’s fun.

Now you may say, sure, it’s easy with elementary kids.

But I see many of you who do it very well.

Some of you don’t feel it’s necessary. They’re adults, you say. They should be internally driven. But it is part of your job as a manager.

You may feel you’re not a cheerleader. Ah, but you are.

You may feel you’re tired of saying the same things all the time. Spend a few minutes to organize. Like a marketing plan, draft a schedule of activities over a time span, list some activities and focus on one a month. That will give you some variety and also make sure you don’t get boring for your employees. Tell stories that warm hearts. Share stories. In Mrs. Lynch’s classes she tells stories about Chips and she hears stories about pets. Don’t be the manager who either never shares anything or the manager about whom employees know everything but they don’t feel he or she knows them. I’ve seen them both.

Good managers are good communicators and you need to do more culture building I’m sure. (Everyone does.) As a business coach one of things I do is pay attention to what you do right and encourage you to do more of it even if you’re tired of doing it or don’t think it’s “who you are!” So, do more of it!

One way to build pride it is to ask your people what they like about their jobs. You will be pleased. I ask that question as part of the pre-work for a Leadership Seminar and managers usually have big smiles on their faces when they hear the responses.

Here’s how I do it. I ask participants ahead of time to write three things they love about their job and one dissatisfier. They tell the group the three satisfiers at the beginning of the session. Their answers almost always come from the heart.

The key to making the exercise successful is to ask them to write their answers and have them do it ahead of time. They’ll be much more thoughtful. Ask for only one dissatisfier and require that they offer a solution to it. Take up the “dissatisfier” with each person alone or discuss the issues in the group without giving names. Believe me, if one person mentions an issue, others probably have thought the same.

Use what you hear. Bring up what Marsha said she loved about her job at another time. It’s a tremendous thank you when people remember what you said and when your boss remembers, it means a lot. Keep at it to generate more pride, more sense of belonging, and a feeling of being in the right place.

Speak of Values and Goals Often
How else does Mrs. Lynch create a positive culture in her classroom? She reminds her students every day of their job: to learn skills and knowledge and also to learn to work with others and how to be a good friend. She tells them that it won’t always be laugh and giggle fun at school, but school should always be fun. Right there you have some values and goals you can use!

She sets the culture. She verbalizes the culture. You set the culture. You verbalize the culture. A good manager is a good communicator. And oh, what a rich culture you can create by getting your words together and using them. Do more of it!

Coming to My Screen Everyday

I have four blogs/emails that are real treasures for me.

  • The Harvard Business Review
    Excellent leadership, management and business information.  Be discerning.  Some aren’t worthy.  But enough are that I check it out everyday.
  • The New York Times.
  • Help Me Rick.  Rick Castellini.  Buy Rick a latte and he’ll answer your IT questions.  Got a bigger problem with your computer or internet?  He’s located in Grand Junction!
  • Comics.com.  You’ll be chuckling everyday.

What are your favorite daily emails?

Character; Can You Assess It Pre-Hiring?

Character is a slippery concept and difficult to define, but as a distinguished Supreme Court justice once said in a different context, we think we know it when we see it.

But the question is, can we see it when it matters, such as before we make a commitment to engage an employee or volunteer for our organization?

If, as I believe, character is a very deep and subtle trait that only manifests itself clearly when a person is under some great stress or serious temptation to violate norms, it would seem to be very difficult to assess it during routine pre-employment evaluations.  Nevertheless, it also seems that it would be very helpful to be able to do so, if it can be done economically.

So, my question to you is are you aware of any valid and reliable tools for character assessment?  How do you assess good character with questions in an interview? What do you watch for with body language?

Hoping it helps, I supply below a dictionary definition of character (if we can’t define it, we certainly can’t measure it!)
character n
4. Moral or ethical strength; integrity; fortitude.
The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition, 1985.

I think you’re looking for someone who won’t steal from, cheat, or lie to you, his employer, will do the right thing and will be loyal to the mission/business.

Thank you for contributing.  We will all be the richer for your sharing.

Are We Indispensable Yet?

Are we indispensable yet?

Pamela Blythe

Pamela Blythe of The Blythe Group

Successful managers tell us what makes an employee indispensable to them.

We’ve learned a lot about how to be indispensable with advice from Jamie Hamilton, CEO of Home Loan, Beth Bricker, CNO of Community Hospital, and Bernice Barnard of Westcon, a Walman company.  In this issue we test our indispensability with Pamela Blythe of The Blythe Group.

Strong Character

“Find a strong character and you’ll have an employee who supports the goals of company always,” says Pamela. Owning a professional firm as Roy and Pamela Blythe do, Pamela values the employee who is concerned for the reputation of the firm and its financial success as if it were his or her own.

So, how do you recognize strong character, I asked Pamela?  Intuition, she said.  When they don’t make eye contact and they mumble, that’s a sign to pay attention.

Pamela feels the employer has to be in touch with his or her employees, to get to know them for a baseline.  She really wants to know about her employees’ kids; she wants to be involved in their lives.  She calls getting to know them, the Coffee Cup Walk Around.  “I want to know my employees.  And I mean it!” she says.

It’s the employer’s duty to provide a work environment that fosters good character in concert with the reality of good business.

“I would take character over skills any day,” Pamela says.  “Character is intuitive, skills can be taught.”

8 Great Reasons to Do Strategic Planning

I’ve just done a terrific strategic planning session with Ariel Clinical Services so I’m prompted to encourage you to do one with your company.

1. Gets everyone on the same page saving time and money.

2. Everyone has the same information; transparency promotes trust.

3. Creates a contract between board and CEO, CEO and leadership team, with employees and with vendors; fosters accountability.

4. Helps a board adhere to its primary purpose.

5. Solves day-to-day management and personnel problems.

* Creates criteria for decision making at all levels; employees ask, “Does it support the plan?”

* Replaces personality cults with written agreement.

* Reduces micromanagement by board, CEO and staff.

* Helps during conflicts by serving as a touchstone for every decision.

* Provides objective criteria for evaluations.

* Hiring is done to fill skill/talent/personality trait needs based on the plan.

6. Moves the organization forward to a new destination while keeping it relevant to its mission and the community it serves.

7. Everyone learns better business practices enabling us to meet the new challenges of the future brought on by changing customer or client needs, culture, technology, community and competitors.

8. A powerful mission statement creates good community relations.